As U.S. president Donald Trump announced yesterday in a major statement, the U.S. is going to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. At the same time, the president of the United States of America pledged to begin negotiations to either re-enter or re-negotiate an entirely new agreement which would be more favourable for the U.S. However, France, Germany and Italy made already clear in a joint statement that they “firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated”.
Trump justified the move by stating that the Paris Agreement would cost the U.S. economy nearly USD 3 trillion in reduced economic output, over 6 million industrial jobs and over 3 million manufacturing. These numbers are based on a study by NERA consulting, which has faced large criticism for its unrealistic assumptions and which has been accused to having been sponsored by fossil fuel interest groups, such as the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
Donald Trump argued that the Paris Agreement would impose unrealistic targets on the U.S. while giving countries like China and India a free pass for years. Actually, the contribution of the U.S. has been nationally-determined and there is no sanction if the U.S. does not comply with the pledge made by the Obama administration in 2015. In addition, this statement ignores that China and India have made first-time ever commitments under the Paris Agreement. There are even speculations that Chinese emissions have already peaked and India strives not to build any new coal power plants at least until 2027, which would allow the both countries to vastly overachieve their contribution targets.
Moreover, Trump stated that the impact of the Paris Agreement on global average temperature rise would be anyway negligible by citing a study of MIT researchers. Also this study has been criticised due to the assumption that governments would freeze their efforts after 2030, the time when current nationally-determined contributions would end. Part of the announcements made yesterday is also the cessation of any payments to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which helps developing countries to reduce their emissions and to adapt to the adverse consequences of climate change. The Obama administration had pledged further USD 2 billion after paying out USD 1 billion so far.
The decision of Trump to withdraw from the Paris initiates a year-long process. As it is laid down in the Paris Agreement, only three years after the agreement entered into force – which it did on November 4, 2016 – it will be possible to withdraw from the agreement. Then, it will take one more year for the withdrawal to become effective. That means that the earliest date that the U.S. can leave the agreement is November 4, 2020 – only one day after the next presidential election. However, there are other options on the table in order to accelerate this process. For instance, Trump could argue that Obama overstepped his authority in approving the Paris climate accord and that it would be the Senate that would have to take a decision on this issue, as the Washington Post reports. It is virtually certain that the Republican majority in the Senate would tear apart the Agreement. However, 94 percent of international agreements since 2009 were enacted by executive action. Hence, Trump may open Pandora’s box and may weaken his own powers for future agreements. In contrast, exiting the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change – which would automatically result in leaving the Paris Agreement – would last only one year but would be far more radical and seems not to be in question as of now.
The decision made by Trump yesterday ends a lasting conflict within his own administration, which was deeply divided in the question of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement or not. It was reported that State Secretary Rex Tillerson, Ivanka Trump and Trump’s sun-in-law Jared Kushner were among the camp in favour of staying inside the Paris Agreement. In contrast, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and advisor Stephen Bannon were among the well-known proponents of exiting the Paris Agreement. Their influence is thus said to have been strengthened with the decision.
The withdrawal from the Paris Agreement goes against the calls of many companies. For instance, the CEOs of several companies, including Goldman Sachs, Unilever and Coca Cola, wrote an open letter to Trump in which they have urged him to remain in the Paris Agreement. Even many fossil energy companies such as Shell, Exxon, Chevron and BP advocated to stay in the Paris climate deal, even though they are accused to lobby for the opposite through the backdoor. Moreover, according to polls 61 percent of Americans said that the country should remain in the deal while only 17 percent support the withdrawal. But also many supposed allies of the U.S. tried to induce the U.S. not to leave the Paris Agreement, such as the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.
A few days ago, the uncertainty about continued U.S. engagement in the climate accord had already separated the Group of Seven (G7) at its summit in Taormina, Italy. The final communiqué released at the end of the meeting acknowledged that the U.S. “is in the process of reviewing its policies on climate change and on the Paris Agreement”. In contrast, the other six countries reaffirmed “their strong commitment to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement.
In the last days and in the hours before the official announcement, there had then been many speculations that Trump had already made the decision to exit the Paris Agreement. But even before, during his presidential campaign, Donald Trump vowed to “cancel” the Paris Agreement. He also called global warming an “expensive hoax”, which would have been “created by and for the Chinese”.
In addition, Trump promised to dismantle the climate policies enacted by his precedent Barack Obama, which has been carried over into Trump’s “America First Energy Plan” on the website of the White House. In end of March 2017, Trump has put this plan into action with his Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth. The order tasked executive departments and agencies to “suspend, revise or rescind” regulations on climate change representing an “unduly burden [to] the development of domestic energy resources” such as oil, natural gas and coal. This also related to the Clean Power Plan, which has been at the heat of the efforts to reduce GHG emissions and vital for the achievement of the national determined contribution (NDC) of the U.S. The NDC foresaw an emission reduction of 26-28 percent by 2025 below 2005 levels. According to the Climate Action Tracker, the U.S. would have had to fully implement existing measures and to introduce new measures to reach this target.
With the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the U.S. joins the ranks with Nicaragua and Syria, the only two countries that have not signed the accord, as the Washington Post reports. While Syria is in the mid of a civil war, Nicaragua has declined to enter the treaty because it holds the view that the agreement is not strict enough and does not require enough sacrifices from wealthier, developed countries. Nonetheless, Nicaragua is committed to tackling climate change. It is on track to achieve 90 percent renewable energies by 2020. In total, more than 190 nations have adopted the accord in December 2015 in Paris and already 146 countries in addition to the U.S. have ratified or otherwise joined it as of today according to the UNFCCC. When including the U.S., these countries represented more than 80 percent of global GHG emissions.
The impacts of the U.S. decision to withdraw the Paris Agreement are not yet predictable. There are concerns that the exit of the largest historical emitter of CO2 could induce other countries to withdraw from the agreement as well or to downgrade their contribution as a reaction. However, many countries have already indicated their continued commitment to the Paris Agreement. Jean-Claude Juncker already announced the EU’s aspiration to fill the vacuum created by the U.S. with its leadership, while mentioning the meeting with the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang today. It is expected that the EU and China will come up with a major announcement in this consideration. In a joint communiqué, the European Union and the African Union have already made clear that they will stick to the Paris Agreement and that they intend to fully implement the climate accord. But also India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the country would stay committed to a cleaner future and to invest in renewable energies. He said that no politician would have the right to jeopardise the environment for future generations and that it would be a criminal act to do so. And even Russia claimed that it will back the Paris Agreement irrespective of U.S. withdrawal. Also Australia, Canada, Japan and Mexico stated that they will continue to support the Paris Agreement, as The Guardian reports.
It is expected that four years of abstinence of the U.S. in international climate policy would not be a major problem for the possibility to be able to reach the targets in the Paris Agreement. However, if this policy would continue, it would become a major challenge. Therefore, it is rather expected that the U.S. would itself suffer most from its decision to exit the Paris Agreement. It has been speculated that the U.S. might lose large parts of its international credibility with adverse repercussions on other policy areas in which the U.S. are reliant upon other countries. Todd Stern, the former U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change under the Obama Administration for instance contended that a withdrawal causes “serious diplomatic damage”. In addition, it might have adverse impacts on the economic prospects as clean energy represents an economic opportunity to “expand markets, create jobs and to build wealth”.
Therefore, it is hoped that actions on the subnational level might compensate at least to a certain extent for the lack of ambition on the federal level in the U.S. Many states and cities have put climate policies and targets to reduce GHG emissions in place, and their number is rising. For instance, the city of Portland has announced that it aims to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 just a few hours after Trump’s statement. Additionally, businesses and market forces are expected to continue to drive the clean energy transformation. Moreover, the New York Times reports that representatives of American cities, states and companies are preparing a submission to the UN in order to fulfil the U.S. NDC under the Paris Agreement. The group supposedly consists of 30 mayors, three governors – presumably from California, New York and Washington –, more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses so far. However, it is not clear at this point if this submission will be accepted and grouped along the contributions of nation states. Furthermore, there are also concerns that the Trump administration could pre-emptively prevent progress on subnational levels by imposing restrictions on the rules and programmes that governments beneath the federal government are allowed to implement or by cutting respective funding.
One thing thus nevertheless remains certain: Climate policy will remain on the agenda of public debates over the next days, weeks and years with President Trump likely facing resistance from many different sides.
(Image: President Trump Makes a Statement Regarding the Paris Accord. Source: The White House)